The mother of intervention

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Amy Gray

Politicians often assume mothers are apolitical with no other political agenda than getting daycare rebates, or paid parental leave if they’re lucky. It’s a telling assumption that shows people often view mothers as too consumed with child rearing to even participate in political action.

Eleisha Mullane knows this all too well. Despite the fact “women have been at the forefront of activism”, their power is often ignored as it is elsewhere. “Once you have kids in some ways you become invisible”, Mullane says.

But Mullane’s group Mums4Refugees uses this invisibiliy “to our advantage, because when you arrive with a group of little ones in prams it’s a dilemma – striking for the media but its also difficult for politicians to ignore”.

Around the country, Mums4Refugees stage ‘playgroup protests’ where mothers and their kids occupy politicians’ offices (most recently Malcolm Turnbulls’) or outside government departments.

The playgroup protests are visually arresting – there’s purity in children innocently drawing on the footpath with chalk or crafting “pink cut outs of women” as mothers debate the purity in care of “a woman on Nauru being refused treatment for a metastasising breast lump”. While Mullane says the activities are “often about keeping the kids occupied while we meet or at our actions”, they often tie into the protest’s “overall theme”.

Mullane points to her Queensland group who “had a great time making lots of craft installations and installing them outside Minister for Immigration Peter Duttons office, including paper dolls planted on sticks, strung up kids clothing to remind him of the children in detention”.

It’s a different, humanising protest method that uses visibility and compassion instead of anger and satire, which can alienate people. By including children and mothers, it leverages the social stereotype of the loving woman called into caring service…and asks why the government can’t provide the same to refugees.

As the National Campaign Coordinator and Victorian Convener, Mullane ensures that the group can quickly respond to issues and plan actions. Mums4Refugees uses private Facebook groups to assign social media work, direct support for people seeking asylum and protest actions. “When we know something is coming up we will start a thread and brainstorm how we want to respond where do we fit in the mix”, Mullane says, before state groups work to share workloads and maintain consistency.

The group’s support and activism extends beyond protests and last minute requests. Mums4Reugees are working on a project called “safe play spaces”, which will recreate “pop up play spaces similar to that which the Australian Government sponsor in war and disaster zones… a safe place that kids can come and be kids away from the horror around them”.

The group will use these spaces “as a way of engaging parents in a conversation about the what is happening to families on Nauru, that preschoolers don’t have access to quality early childhood education, school kids have limited schooling options and there is nothing for these kids on an island of 10,000 people the size of Melbourne Airport”.

It’s the conversation that is most important to Eleisha, a chance to show what Mums4Refugees is all about. The group wants to “create a space for mums to organise at our own pace and level in family-friendly ways”. With every pop-up playground and protest playgroup, they aim to balance their “advocacy and activism around our families and using our authentic voice to call out what is wrong in this debate”.

“At the end of the day that is what we are about: building conversations with everyday Australians, in the communities we are in – [whether] it the local school, daycare, sporting clubs – and showing that there is opposition to our current approach to people seeking asylum and that we will not stand by and allow it to happen without a fight”, Mullane says.

Her final word of advice? “BYO toys, craft and chalk!”

 

You can join the Mums4Refugees Facebook group and receive online updates.

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